A month ago I relocated to the States. Eight plus years abroad came to an abrupt close. Or, not so abrupt. Over the past year, free of the day-to-day grind of running a small business, I used my free time to explore cycling. I rode a lot, over 8000km, or what shook out to riding an imperial century every week. I climbed like a grimpeur. I bike mommed and trip guided. I learned the frustrations of buying a garbage BB. I became the embodiment of hungry. And generally, had a good time of it. Most importantly, I got to think about my riding and what it all meant on a whole new level.
Spending that much time riding gives you plenty of time to reflect. The time was right to be closer to family and re-explore my Motherland. Upon my grand return, I decided to follow guideline #8 and take time off the bike. Despite this my mind keeps spinning, rehashing what America is and how it’s different from what I’ve known these past years. Obviously I contextualize my experience by the bike.
It’s easy to rail on Mainland China for its seemingly lack of recreational cycling practice and culture. There’s also the pollution and unpredictable nature of roads and other random obstacles. There are a few stark differences though that make me itch for my adopted home. Namely, running headlong into the United States’ gluttonous car culture.
In the past years when I gave up riding for short stints, this meant no long rides or bike tours. It was impossible however, to keep myself from using the bike in some capacity: riding to run errands, get across town, meet up with friends, etc. In the US everything is streamlined to make the idea of getting around any other way than by car seem inconvenient. Walking or riding is often a fleeting afterthought. The choice to do either seemingly daunting, unless your destination is within 2 or 3 blocks.
It’s strange to come back to an infrastructure I’ve yearned for over these years, the trail networks and compartmentalized routes for bicycling, and find them woefully inadequate. Streets aren’t for traffic, they’re for vehicles. Entire routes are created that separate vehicles from bikes and pedestrians as a safe method to spare motorists from the risk of accidentally killing or maiming any other form of traffic. Having recently read a sobering article about the untimely death of endurance cycling legend, Mike Hall, the idea of these trail networks feels like a cheap concession. It’s acknowledging we’ve got a problem, but aren’t sure what to do about it.
Being on the other side of the lens, it was always a conversation when introducing foreigners to how traffic in China works. It appears chaotic and overwhelming, but it follows one general principle. Anything on the road is traffic, equal and deserving consideration. Your presence feels felt on the road, and within no time riding around you begin to understand this. Today, hugging the white line on a shoulder-less boulevard and watching drivers haphazardly drift willy-nilly ahead of me, I had to wonder. Is this just some kind of culture shock?